A post over on The Flogging of America got me thinking about my grandmother. Bessie Lee (Owens) Walker. She was born in 1918 in the middle of nowhere, north Texas. Her father died and her mom remarried making Bessie the oldest of a whole bunch of kids. Between brothers and sisters, full, half or step there were 13 kids. Uncle Jim was the baby and my grandmother took care of him like he was her own most of the time. Even though they lived on a farm she never had a lot of time for farm chores. Too much time spent babysitting. I once had a disagreement with my mom who assumed that her mom knew how to kill a chicken. After all she had lived on a farm during the depression. I said that she spent her time watching kids and the chicken killing was left up to other people. I was right, but not for the reasons I thought. She said her hands were too small to get a good grip on the chickens neck, so she couldn't wring it properly.
Bessie married Dawson Walker and moved first to Louisiana and then to Arkansas. Along the way they had 3 kids, all girls. My mother is the middle sister. The 3 girls gave them 10 grandchildren of which I am the oldest. My dad was in the Army, and we traveled a lot. Whenever it was possible my parents would send my brother and I back to Arkansas to visit my grandparents during the summer. Among the things I remember most are shelling beans, wrasslin and the arguments over air conditioners. My grandparents used a couple of window units to cool their house and someone was always coming up and turning them on or off, the other person would always get mad.
Shelling beans was a way of life for many people back then. You grew them or bought a few bushels and shelling was part of getting them ready for preserving. In my grandmother's house this was either done on the front porch or in front of the television if "wrasslin" was on. She loved professional wrestling and had favorites that she would root for. Once we went to the Watermelon Festival on Hope, Arkansas so that she could see The Junkyard Dog wrestle in person. Wrestling bored me, still does, but the watermelon was good and my grandmother was happy. All in all it was a nice trip.
My grandmother died in 1998. She had been battling Alzheimer's for awhile and the Bessie I knew left a long time before her body quit working. Shortly after she died I became pregnant with my youngest child. I decided long before she was born that I was having a daughter and that her name would be Bessie Leigh. Thankfully she didn't turn out to be a he and I got my wish. I named my daughter after my grandmother not just because of the love I felt, but because my grandmother had a lot of the characteristics I would like to see in my daughter. She was strong, sometimes to the point of being obstinate and she was adventurous. She liked to go and try new things and age didn't stop her. If anything as she got older she got more adventurous. Right before she got sick she announced that she was driving to Alaska. She would have done it too if she had been able. I hope that my daughter gets even a tiny bit of that spirit.